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Girls Don't Interpret HPV Vaccine as 'Green Light' for Sexual Activity

hpv vaccine, teen sexual behaviors

Lifesaver or bad, bad influence on teen girls?

The fact that vaccines save lives isn’t a good enough sell for them these days. Misinformation, poor understanding of statistics and some basic science, and a pervasive mistrust of institutions have created a challenge for public health officials. And that’s only with regard to the standards like polio, measles and meningitis.

The HPV vaccine, which protects girls and women from certain types of cervical cancer caused by the human papillomavirus, freaked some families out because what it protected girls against is a virus that is transmitted sexually. Getting the shot, these HPV immunization opponents argued, was a green light to go out and have sex. (Because teens are accustomed to waiting for parental green lights before doing anything?)

Of course that was a ridiculous reason to oppose life-saving protection but now there’s actually evidence proving it. A new study in the journal Vaccine found that being offered the shot or actually getting it had no effect on the sexual behavior of teenage girls.

The study looked at a cross-section of more than 1,000 girls in the U.K. who were around the age of 17. The study identified one group that had been offered the HPV vaccine and another who hadn’t. They found no difference between those two groups regarding the likelihood of sexual activity. Among girls who had received the HPV vaccine, there was also no difference in condom usage or number of sexual partners from the girls who had not gotten the vaccine.

It shouldn’t be surprising that the shot has so little bearing on sexual behaviors. In my experience with it, it’s not like after every one of the shots in the three-shot cycle, nurses high-5 my daughter and ask about the cute boys in class. It’s just another shot, which she hates, which will protect her against certain types of cancer that, once she knows something about them, she will no doubt hate more.

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